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Sunday, March 19, 2023

Why are people going missing in Himachal’s beautiful Parvati valley?

Breathtaking landscapes, tall green cedars and a fascinating riverside surrounded by majestic mountain peaks make the Parvati valley a natural wonder. But it also has a dark side. Several young foreign and Bharatiya tourists go missing in this area, known for its seamy drug culture.

The figures are shocking. The latest case in point is that of a 27-year-old tourist from Ghaziabad near Delhi. He went missing on December 31 after a New Year eve party. After a 35-day search, his body was recovered, after Director General of Police Sanjay Kundu set-up an SIT.

Like many other tourists, the youth had arrived in Kasol to celebrate the New Year. Thereafter, he lost contact with his family members. The father also announced a reward of Rs 5 lakh for a person who could provide the whereabouts of his son.

And, finally came the real shock as the police found his decomposed body, leaving the family shattered.

Superintendent of Police Kullu Sakshi Verma said “the police are still awaiting a post-mortem report and can’t assume death being linked to drugs. The family awaits closure and holds a different view on the youth’s death.”

The official records show as many as 1078 persons had gone missing in the Parvati valley between 2003-2023, of which 21 were foreigners. Only 498 of them could be traced. Mystery continues to shroud deaths and cases of disappearance of persons in the Parvati valley.

With the exception of the Covid 19 period, when only a few persons reportedly went missing, there has been a steady rise in the number of foreign and domestic tourists that have disappeared in the valley.

In 2022, as many as 227 tourists went missing in Parvati Valley, the highest number in recent years after the tourist activities resumed in Kullu-Manali.

“We can’t attribute these deaths to drug abuse, or drug overdose. The area is highly treacherous. The people tend to venture out not adhering to safety guidelines or they avoid taking the local guides. Weather is also a reason sometimes. The information about a person having an accidental fall doesn’t reach us in time. Only when their family members or friends search him/her, the police get to know about it” said a former Superintendent of Police, Kullu — now retired and settled in Shimla.

But the fact remains that the police are struggling to tackle the drug menace in Kullu, where massive seizures of heroin and other contraband are taking place every day.

Aditya Kant Sharma author of a novel ‘High On Kasol,’ based on mysterious stories about disappearances of foreigners and Indians, said that “the drug angle is certainly a ground reality though circumstances in each case may differ.”

The novel, named after a village in Parvati Valley, released by former Governor Rajendra Vishwanath Arlekar (now Governor of Bihar) tries to unravel the changing trends of drug trafficking and substance abuse which is affecting the lives of youth in the hill state.

The former Governor had gone public to relate the drug issue with his home state Goa and sought a crack-down to save “dev Bhoomi” from becoming a “nasha-Bhoomi.”

The local youths, who don’t have jobs, find trafficking a lucrative venture and most, thereafter also become addicts. The families are finding themselves in a vicious circle to keep their sons and daughters away from drugs, especially after ‘Chitta’ (a heroin derivative) has emerged as a new menace.

But growing cannabis and using it for charas as money spinner in Parvati valley and nearby Malana is an accepted reality now. It’s also a story of rags to riches for several families, who are investing their ill-gotten money in properties – hotels and homestays or buying luxury cars.

“Malana cream” or magic cream – a high-end product drawn from Cannabis is sold at almost Rs 3000- 4000 per 10 gm at Malana while its demand in the international market has been very high.

The politicians from Kullu, cutting across party lines are now asking the government to legalise cultivation of cannabis. The government is yet to take a final call.

Aditya Kant Sharma says: “The plot of my book revolves around the mysterious disappearance of an Israeli woman, who falls victim to a drug syndicate. The woman, a former commando of the Israeli army comes to the valley to unveil the mystery of missing foreigners but she herself disappears in the magic valley” he told India Narrative at Kullu-his native town.

According to him, more than 20 foreigners have gone missing in the Kullu valley in the last 20 years. Most of these, he believes, are linked with the consumption of drugs.

Kesternov Vladislov – a Russian national went missing from Kasol in May 2011. A few days later his body was found in a gorge between Rasol and Chhalal.

In August 1991, Oddette Victoria Ann Houghton, an Australian went missing in Manikaran valley. This was one of the first cases of missing foreigners.

The most shocking case of a missing foreigner was Justin Alexander Shetler, a US citizen and a highly skilled trekker. He went missing from Manikaran valley. The police efforts to trace him proved futile.

His mother who had arrived in Manali in search of her son even met then chief minister Virbhadra Singh to seek his help from the state machinery and also mobilised support from the US Embassy in Delhi. She also hired a private chopper for an aerial search but it proved futile.

The disappearance of Polish national Bruno Mushchalik, 24, attracted a lot of media attention in 2015. His father Piotr Mushchalik moved the Himachal Pradesh High Court asking for setting-up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) and he even hired a chopper for the search. He had also announced a reward of Rs 1.5 lakh for tracing his son.

Bruno had stayed at Manalsu Guest House in Manali from where he apparently left for the Parvati Valley. His last message was to his girlfriend on August 9, 2015.

-By Indiannarrative.com

(This article has been published via a syndicated feed with minor edits to conform to HinduPost style guide)

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